Photographer: What Is Needed to Start a Career in Photography?

Photographers need some formal education, depending on their specialty. Learn more about the education and job duties to see if this is the right career for you.

Essential Information

Photography careers are available in commercial photography, photojournalism and scientific photography. The photography job market is expected to be competitive, and individuals who are new to the field may have to start as assistants or self-employed freelancers. Work in some specialty fields may require a college degree or formal training.

Required EducationHigh school diploma or equivalent
Other EducationBachelor's degree for certain specialties
Projected Job Growth (2012-2022)*4%
Average Salary (2013)*$37,190

Source:*U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Educational Information for Photographers

While education isn't a requirement for some jobs, individuals who wish to work in certain fields, such as photojournalism, may need a college degree. Students may choose from photography, photojournalism or related programs, which may be housed in communication and journalism schools. Coursework specific to photography may include topics in history, multimedia, styles and techniques.

Some photography programs may allow students to design portions of their curriculum with the assistance of a faculty advisor. Besides coursework, students may also spend time working in studios and putting a portfolio together. Programs may offer industry-specific training, such as editing and creating photo stories. Students may also consider doing an internship to gain relevant work experience.

Employment Information for Photographers

Photographers capture images for commercial, artistic or educational purposes. These professionals are able to consider issues such as placement and lighting. Photographers also need editing skills, which may include being familiar with editing software. Interpersonal skills are useful for making subjects comfortable or working with clients on a project.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), roughly 60% of all photographers were self-employed in 2012. Salaried photographers may work in portrait studios, broadcasting companies or publishing. Entry-level photographers may begin their careers by assisting established photographers, then advance with experience.

Career Outlook

The BLS indicated that employment of photographers was expected to increase four percent from 2012-2022, which is slower than the national average of 11% for all career fields. Some of the contributing factors include the increase of print and Internet-based magazines. Despite the average growth in employment, the job market would remain competitive, and there may be fewer salaried positions available due to many companies hiring freelancers. Individuals with previous work experience and photo editing skills may have an advantage.

Salary Information

In May 2013, the BLS reported that the mean annual earnings of a photographer were $37,190. Photographers working in scientific and technical services industries earned mean annual wages of $33,470. The radio and television broadcasting industries paid photographers mean earnings of $43,290, while photographers for publishers of items like newspapers and books earned mean wages of $43,090.

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